Moment in Our History

Before 1913

Alongside the Reservoir three little hamlets began expanding – Ashokan, Glenford, and West Hurley – each with a school-house and a church.  Each was a small provincial community unto itself.  Money was not plentiful and there were few cars in the area.  The communities were connected by a road of sorts, but nothing like we know Route 28 to be today.  There was little traveling and very little communication.


In this year, the three churches in Ashokan, Glenford, and West Hurley were made into a three-point charge of the Methodist Episcopal church with one “minister” serving all three churches, each retaining its own individual identity.  Their first act of cooperation, however, was the building of a parsonage in Ashokan at the cost of $2,543.00.

Things went on this way for over half a century until, through the efforts of the pastor, Glenford and Ashokan joined for services during the summer months.  Later on we continued meeting together year round.  Eventually West Hurley joined in.


Seventy years after these churches became a three-point charge, we united for worship each Sunday and for Sunday school.  Each church, however, retained its own treasury and board of trustees.  We became known as “The Reservoir United Methodist Churches.” 


Ten years later the three churches united under one administrative board. We created a single treasury while retaining separate boards of trustees and separate holdings of assets.


All three churches were legally incorporated to form one church with one nine-member board of trustees.  We now became known as “The Reservoir United Methodist Church.”  Now we had become one church family with three “houses.”  What should we do?


A task force known as “Next Steps” was set up to give us direction.  Under professional help, opinions were surveyed, needs were assessed, and the three church sites were carefully evaluated. Ashokan was deemed to be the best site for developing.  Plans were made for a “Building Committee” to be established.


The West Hurley Church was sold.  It was an exciting but also a bittersweet experience.


Plans on paper began to take shape as the architect gave  reality to our dream.  A “Capital Funds Committee” was established  to explore sources of income to finance our project.


A professional fund-raiser was hired and we launched an ambitious pledge campaign.  Then began the task of finding a satisfactory contractor to take on the job of building our dream.  


Finally, Jim Senecal, John, Moore, and Kevin Wiswall emerged as our construction contractors.  


At a special charge conference on June 6, the congregation  approved the contract with Jim, John, and Kevin to erect an addition to our Ashokan church.  Plans were then made to sell the  Glenford church.


By spring, permits had been received from the DEP and work finally began at the site.  It was projected that by the middle of September we would move into our “new” church.

We are so very grateful to Jim, John and Kevin, to our other subcontractors, and to all of our parishioners who worked so tirelessly to make our dream a reality and to make it even better than we had imagined.

The Story of Reservoir Methodists

The completion of the new Reservoir Church is an historic culmination of the accomplishments of many local Methodist communities in the Esopus Valley, extending over more than two centuries. This is the story of their creation and their evolution into the churches of today.

About three hundred years ago a religious movement in the Protestant churches of Europe and America began reforms which revived the spiritual lives of Christians. This Pietism favored extemporaneous preaching, traveling evangelism, lay leadership in churches, spiritual excitement, outdoor and home assemblies, preaching to the unchurched, scrupulous morality and devotion, and a theology of grace.

George Whitefield and John Wesley were the founders of the English form of Pietism known as Methodism. They were both missionary evangelists to the American colonies in the middle 1700’s, where their “methods” would spread to the hinterlands of the Appalachian and Catskill Mountains.

Methodist congregations often began as “Class Meetings” of a few faithful Christians. The first such congregation in New York met in a private home in New York City in 1760. The first chapel was this residence converted to a church in 1768.


The first known Methodist sermon in our area was preached in 1777 from the courthouse steps on Wall Street in Kingston, NY. The American Revolution effectively separated American Methodism from the English church. John Wesley appointed Francis Asbury to be the first American Methodist Bishop. He blazed a pioneer trail of churches on horseback with little more than these saddlebags, a Bible, and a hymnal.

The first Methodist Church in the Reservoir area was a Class Meeting that took place in Beaverkill (now Glenford) in the private home of a Mr. Willey. That was in 1791, the year John Wesley died.

This community would eventually build a chapel in Glenford in 1865, now the second oldest surviving chapel in the reservoir vicinity. Its congregation would eventually combine with others to become the Reservoir Church.

In 1797 the first class meeting in the town of Shokan took place in the home of the Hill family. Methodists helped make Shokan a center of religious activity for half a century before they built the first Methodist Chapel in 1855. Today’s Reservoir Church is a direct descendant of this church.

Before they built their chapels, local Methodists met in homes, barns, fields, even in a local tavern where the converted prop- rietor stopped serving alcohol.

Methodists were leaders in the movements to abolish alcoholism and slavery.

A Great Awakening of the Spirit began in 1802 in Kentucky and spread quickly along the frontier of the new nation.

The voluminous songs and hymnbooks of John and Charles Wesley contributed to the singing heritage of these camp revival meetings.

The fourth annual camp revival meeting of the Second Great Awakening met in 1806 in old Shokan at David Bevier’s field near the Shokan bridge across the Esopus. People came for miles to hear evangelists and laymen preach for days. After another Shokan revival in 1831, Shokan was placed on the conference circuit for regular visits by the itinerant clergy. Eventually they began meeting in the Shokan Dutch Reformed Church, the first church built in the reservoir area in 1800.

While meeting there they organized the Fourth Ulster County Sunday School League in 1853. Then they built their chapel in 1855.

The churches were at the center of life in the vital community of Shokan, seen here in the distance from West Shokan.

Today the site of the town lies off shore here, just beyond the opening of the Butternut Cove beneath the reservoir waters.

The first West Hurley chapel burned and was replaced.

The class meeting at the Olive Branch Station moved just down the road to build the Olive Branch Church at Ashton.

The story was told of some pranksters at the Olive Branch Church at Ashton who switched all the harnesses of the horses while the families worshiped one Sunday morning!

The last of the original reservoir churches was the Stone Church, built on Spillway Road in 1872 just inside the Marbletown line. It was shared by a Dutch Reformed and a Methodist congregation.

The most historic event in the lives of these communities was their removal and inundation by the Ashokan Reservoir in 1912. Only the Olive Bridge Methodist Church was outside the path of destruction. The second West Hurley Church was replaced by yet another new church on what is Rt. 28 today.

This third church burned in the 1920’s and the congregation rebuilt yet again on that site, today an architect’s studio and office.

The Glenford Chapel was near enough to the new Rt. 28 to be physically moved up to its new site, but there were other obstacles to be overcome. New York City condemned the church property and awarded the church $4,898.03 for taking the land and the building. All the buildings that were not moved out were to be burned by the city before the flood. But a fifth of the church land was part of the City’s land grant for a new roadway to the Ulster and Delaware Railroad line. The construction contractor for the railroad had salvage rights for any buildings in the way of construction.

The trustees approached the general manager of the railroad and the building contractor and gained permission to remove the building at no charge. The secretary of the trustees also went to a New York City Water Supply engineer and got permission to move the church. He also accepted the city engineer’s advice that it was unnecessary to also gain permission of the head engineer. This proved to be a mistake.

After the building was moved in 1911 the head engineer filed suit for trespass, theft, and the return of the full amount the City had awarded for taking the land. Finally in 1913 the Ulster County Court trial jury awarded the City $45. The church paid that, and $500 to their defense attorney. The trustees went down in legend as the men who had stolen the church. Later on church members would enact a play by Eleanor Arold dramatizing an imaginary scene in which a City officer arrested the trustees and carried them off from their meeting to jail! Such myths put the “story” in history.

After gaining permission, the next difficulty for Glenford had been the physical task of moving the whole church up to its new site. A windlass drum was attached to a wagon with a sweep device that could be turned by horses. The wagon was attached to the ground and the windlass cable to the church. As the horses turned the windlass to draw in the cable, the building was dragged on rolling logs. Then the wagon was moved repeatedly to unwind the cable until the church could be jacked up over its new foundation on the present site.

Finally, the Glenford community was faced with still another sadness. The Glenford Church was originally built on lands that had belonged to the family of Julia Johnston of Glenford. She also owned the best site for moving the building to a new location. In 1965 Rose Matthews remembered Julia’s response when the trustees had asked her for the land: “I will have to give them the deed.” After they moved the church and built the hall you see in the picture, Julia was invited to a church dinner. She stepped from the kitchen at the back of the hall onto a platform to view the picnic and fell off the edge. Badly injured, she was placed on a cot and carried to a bed. The Doctor said he would come in the morning but she died in the night. Her memory is kept by this saying:

“She gave so much and received so little.”


The coming of the reservoir also forced the removal of the Shokan Church, the Olive Branch Church at Ashton, and the Old Stone Church. The move to the new church on Rt. 28 in the new hamlet of Shokan included a merger with the Olive Branch Church at Ashton and Old Stone Churches.

What had been five original churches in the path of the reservoir became three new church sites on Rt. 28. The old chapels and the Ashton and Old Stone Church communities were gone.

These new church communities would serve their neighborhoods for most of a century along the new corridor around the reservoir. The development of these communities into a single church would take place gradually in the later decades of the 20th century. That most recent evolution would complete the story of the creation of the new Reservoir United Methodist Church.